The AC Transit bully



AC Transit must descend from its throne of supposed magnanimity and give UC Berkeley students the deal they deserve. Because the AC Transit Class Pass will most likely reappear on the spring 2013 ASUC ballot, ASUC President Connor Landgraf should continue his efforts in meeting and negotiating with the organization to get a better contract for UC Berkeley.

The Class Pass grants unlimited ridership to Berkeley students for a per-semester fee, currently around $78, that also includes limited funding for Bear Transit shuttles and a mandatory return to financial aid. Our current contract with AC Transit will expire following the summer 2013 session, and an ASUC referendum in the spring is required to extend its life on our campus.

As AC Transit’s biggest collegiate customer, we can get a better deal. Landgraf and External Affairs Vice President Shahryar Abbasi met with the chief financial officer of AC Transit earlier this semester to engage in a discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of AC Transit’s proposal. The fact that the CFO attended a meeting with ASUC representatives underscores the weight of our contract with AC Transit. In addition to meeting with the organization, Landgraf will be sending out a survey to students in order to gauge ridership statistics and to determine the value of the Class Pass. Landgraf and Abbasi’s initiative on this issue is promising.

Students who commute, have internships in the city or simply enjoy going down to Shattuck to sip a beer all find value in the Class Pass. Compared to the price of an unlimited bus pass for a standard AC Transit rider, this deal is comparatively decent. According to AC Transit spokesperson Clarence Johnson, there is “statistical proof that (the Class Pass) is a great benefit for students and that AC Transit is receiving below market value for UC student fares.” However, to weigh the value of our deal on the Class Pass against a standard 31-day pass is like comparing Costco to Andronico’s — bulk deals get consumers different and better prices.

The same Class Pass service is provided by the AC Transit to other schools in the Bay Area in the form of an EasyPass. The organization promotes this bulk deal by using a price matrix in which groups get cheaper EasyPass prices for different school sizes, although the matrix lumps schools with more than 10,000 students into the same price bracket. Herein lies the problem. The Peralta Community College District, AC Transit’s second largest collegiate customer, is less than half the size of UC Berkeley yet receives the same price per student for the pass.

At least three avenues exist to improve our contract with AC Transit. First, AC Transit can lower our per-student Class Pass price to match the volume of business we give it. This option would be more subjective, since the concept of a “good” price changes from person to person.

If AC Transit refuses to lower the price for the Class Pass, then Berkeley students should be given the choice to waive the fee like they can for UC SHIP insurance. As long as we still guarantee the purchase of at least 10,000 passes to meet the standardized price bracket AC Transit uses, there should be no problem in allowing students who don’t want the pass to waive the fee. The likelihood of having more than 20,000 students waive the fee would be highly improbable, since an estimated 33,000 students have already obtained the Class Pass, according to Johnson.

As a third option, AC Transit could improve and increase the number of bus lines in the Berkeley area due to the magnitude of our business. With overcrowded buses running during the day and infrequent buses running late at night, an increase in bus lines would be beneficial but probably the most expensive option for the organization.

AC Transit’s budget may be large, but we guarantee it more than $1 million a year. The organization says on its website that most of its operating revenue comes from sources other than bus fares. Since AC Transit applies for national and state grants to gain more funding, students indirectly provide the organization with more money than bus fares alone. For instance, we actually aid AC Transit in its application to the Federal Operating Assistance grant because it takes “population density and bus revenue miles operated” into consideration when awarding the grant. This makes the value of what we give AC Transit far greater than the annual student fee it charges us.

Ultimately, the renewal of the Class Pass will be decided upon by voters through an ASUC referendum, but Landgraf and the ASUC Senate must give students the best possible deal to vote on rather than just a “good” deal handed down through the years. AC Transit must think it’s at Stanford if it believes Berkeley students don’t understand what is going on with their student fees.


Contact Noah Ickowitz at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @noahickowitz.

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  • Dr Berkeley

    The pass is a great deal for students. You pay $78, and then you sell the pass on craigslist for $125 to a recent alum who still has their id card.

  • Terry

    Why should students who pay more to live closer to campus have to subsidize the transportation of students who pay less to live farther away?

    • DrBerkeley

      For the same reason that single people still have to pay taxes to support a local school system. The same reason that people who don’t own a car have to pay taxes to support highway repair. The same reason that…have you got the picture yet? Be Thoreau and go live by yourself if you can’t understand how a society works.

  • I_h8_disqus

    I was behind a bus in Sunnyvale last week that had an advertisement for an incredible sounding deal they were giving students at DeAnza community college. It was much better than what AC Transit offers students.

  • Bradley Froehle

    Unfortunately your argument in favor of the opt-out policy is flawed. AC Transit extends the offer to UC Berkeley knowing that only some fraction of students will utilize the benefit. With an opt-out provision, one can assume that the likely non-riders will opt-out making the fraction of students with a pass who use it much higher. It’s a non-starter.

    It’s the same flawed argument the Republicans use with health insurance. You can’t run a health insurance plan for only sick people with preexisting conditions; you need a bunch of healthy folks to join as well to keep costs down. Hello Obamacare!

    If you want to spend your time on this issue I suggest that you stop trying to squeeze an extra dollar or two out of the $38 / student / semester that goes to AC Transit and instead work on increasing service levels (both span and frequency) in routes that serve UC Berkeley.

    • guest

      Bradley is correct. You cannot find a student transit plan in North America that has a greater discount than the Class Pass. In this case the main problem might be service level, not the price.

      • Terry

        The real discount is not determined by comparing the fee to the equivalent monthly pass rates. It requires consideration of the level of utilization. If few students actually use the pass enough to make up the fee, it doesn’t matter how low the fee is, the students as a group are still being taken advantage of by AC Transit.

        • Guest

          “If few students actually use the pass enough to make up the fee.” Actually, it’s clear based on the results of the ASUC survey from last year (15% participation rate for the whole student body) that over 80% of students benefit from the pass (keep in mind AC Transit takes $38/student):

          14% never use the class pass
          26% use it 2-3 times a month ($42 worth of tickets per semester)
          16% use it once or twice a week ($94 worth of tickets per semester)
          44% use it 3+ times a week (monthly pass would be $80, so $320 a semester)

          (This is actually an underestimate… I’m assuming local round-trips at $2.10 each way, but if you take the Transbay bus, double the value.)

          • Terry

            First, there’s a significant discount on the individual cost (monthly or per-trip) called for due to the guaranteed volume alone. Steady, predictable revenue is highly valuable to AC Transit, which puts us in a strong negotiating position.

            Second, based on your numbers only 60% of students save an appreciable amount of money over individual rates, and 14% are simply getting robbed. Why should students who pay more to live closer to campus have to subsidize the transportation of students who pay less to live farther away? Why should commuters who aren’t well served by AC Transit and have to pay for an alternative have to subsidize them?

    • Charles See

      True. However I think many Berkeley students would be perfectly OK with an opt-out policy, given that so few of us use the passes to make them worth the cost. Health insurance is one thing, but I’m a little tired of subsidizing 5% of our student population’s daily commute to the city, Those who use the passes regularly can pay market rates, like everyone else. I don’t think a “Student Discount” is much of a discount for most of us.

    • Terry

      The argument in favor of the opt-out policy is not flawed. No one said AC Transit wouldn’t insist on a higher per-pass fee to accept such a scheme. “What’s the point then?” you (might) ask? It’s that their revenue would no longer be guaranteed and they’d have to supply enough of a service to justify to each student the fee (however much it was).

      As for your advise on where to direct effort… what leverage do you have to get better service levels *other* than to threaten to take away (by declining to renew at all) or reduce (by saying it’s only worth a lower fee) their guaranteed revenue? Ask nicely?

      If you want to best ensure that service is actually improved and maintained (not just promised to be), you make them convince each individual student, each semester, that their service is still worth the cost.

      • Bradley Froehle

        Yes, ask nicely. It’s worked in the past to preserve lines like the 67 in a previous round of service cuts, and Mike Urbancic almost singlehandedly put together a campaign to maintain the span on the 52 (which serves UC Village).

        Remember AC Transit isn’t some evil for-profit corporation but is rather a public entity trying to serve the public. If they were truly profit driven they’d just pack up shop and quit. Remember that they, and every other public transit agency, “lose” money on each and every ride, in the sense that the amount collected at the farebox only covers a fraction of the overall operating expenses.

  • michael jordan

    I am tired of subsidizing rich 1% ‘ers (Jewish dual citizen Israeli and Asian millionaire’s children) by giving them nearly free rides each semester. These people have truckloads of money and need to feel the real effects of the bad world economy like the 99%’ers who always pay full price for everything and don’t shop at Costco. No slack for spoiled brats and princesses.

    • guest

      Your description of 1%’ers suggests that you only scoff at minorities being part of the 1%. If it’s not racism it’s obvious race-baiting.

      • michael jordan

        I’m not surprised. Punk boy!!!

      • michael jordan

        Being a better human is where you need to focus young folk agitator.

      • michael jordan

        What can I say to a regressive progressive..y…. are just hat your mentors have created…and need I say go Obama the chimp of history. ….

        • Stan De San Diego

          Grow up.

          • michael jordan

            It would be nice to have an honest discourse with you proto-humans. But your adoption of race rather than class forever isolates you. If race is your issue than you are the racist. You judge everything through that lens. That’s just logic and probably not taught at UCB anymore. Culture is the word you are searching for, dig it……When the banks fail you will only have the gold that you carry around your necks, nipple rings, earrings, cock rings, and that will be easily bought for food.

      • michael jordan

        It is great that a college boy like yourself is so dedicated to the destruction of the world ….Romney’s cheering

        • Stan De San Diego

          Looks like you’re the racist here.